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Full Circle: The Hand that Fed Me
I was feeling left out, until my mother stood up for my rights

Mrs. Little wasn’t little. She was a round woman, a stout woman, a woman with a mole where her right eye was supposed to be.

Mrs. Little was my teacher in the third grade. This was not my choice. Just my destiny.  In the third grade, for the first time, we were allowed to use an ink pen. It was more than a tool, the ink pen. It was a symbol, a symbol that separated us from the pencil-wielding babies in the first and second grades.

One day — I think it was the day we were studying the history of the Visigoths — Mrs. Little came over to my little wooden desk and just shook her head.

“Look at that,” she said, grabbing my left hand and holding it up for all the class to see. “Look at the mess you’ve made.” I looked. So did the other kids. And then they laughed. There was blue ink all over the side of my hand. It looked like I had tried to slice a blueberry pie without a knife.

“We’re going to fix this right now,” Mrs. Little said. With that, she grabbed the pen from my left hand and stuck it into my right. “That’s the hand you want to use,” she said. “Use your right hand like everyone else and you won’t be such a mess. Is that understood?” “Yes,” I mumbled.

That day, I walked straight home. I didn’t even stop in Greenman’s grocery for wax lips.

“What did you do in school today?” my mother asked, as she wiped the clear plastic slipcovers that protected our sofa from sloppy left-handed children like me.

“I learned about the Visigoths,” I said. “Oh, and I changed hands. Mrs. Little made me a righty.”

“Over my dead body,” my mother said. She used that expression a lot, my mother. “Mom, can I have tuna instead of liver?” “Mom, can I wear my new sneakers outside?” “Over my dead body,” she said. Not wanting to be responsible for the death of a parent, I would listen to her. I would eat the liver that tasted like an old shoe. I would only wear my new sneakers on the carpet. In return, my mother would agree to be on my side.

“I’m going to school tomorrow,” she said. “I’m going to give that farbissina Mrs. Little a piece of my mind.” Farbissina was a Yiddish word for a person who was mean, someone who was hateful. My mother hated people who were hateful.

The next morning, she put on her best housedress, sprayed a can of Aqua Net on her hair and went to school. I was in the schoolyard with the other kids when she spoke to Mrs. Little. But you could hear her in Camden.

“Do you know half the people in America are left-handed?” she yelled. So what if it was ten percent.

“Do you know famous people like Jonas Salk and Julius LaRosa are left-handed?” Not so much. But Albert Einstein and four out of the last five Presidents are.

“You’re not changing my son,” she said. “You have no right to do that. I’m putting my foot down here. We are not buying him a new baseball glove. I’m telling you that right now.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” Mrs. Little said. “But I feel very strongly about this.”

And then my mother did something very odd. First she cleared her throat. “And,” she said, “the doctor says he shouldn’t use his right arm very much because he has a condition.

“Oh, well,” Mrs. Little said, “that’s a different story. I didn’t realize he had a condition. Well, then I certainly won’t try to change him with a condition.”

“Thank you,” my mother said. With that, it was over. I would remain a lefty. I was so happy, I asked my mother if I could stop to buy wax lips on the way home. She looked at me with loving eyes.

“Over my dead body,” she said.

October 2012
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